After a breathtaking win against the Panthers on the last play of the game Sunday, it’s understandable that Bills fans might still be in a state of shock. The Bills have been on the wrong side of closing out games for so long that it must have felt like a playoff win at The Ralph. I’m still hoarse, and neighbors are still laughing about the screams that could be heard across our little valley in Wyoming.
However, it’s time to move on, and there is a huge difference between going 1-2 or 2-1 with the Bills facing a divisional opponent on the road. The Bills have had what can only be described as a horrid record against divisional opponents in recent years. One of Chan Gailey’s greatest failures was to secure wins against division opponents, which was one of the biggest reasons for his demise in Buffalo as head coach.
Many pundits and fans alike have shown utter disregard for the Jets throughout the preseason, as they waffled between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. Then came a bone-headed decision to put Sanchez in a preseason game with backups in front of him, and of course he was injured resulting in Geno Smith being thrust into the starting job at QB.
The comparisons are quite interesting. Both rookies were thrust into a starting role because the presumed veterans (Sanchez and Kolb) were supposed to allow them the opportunity to develop. Suddenly, neither are available to allow these two rookie QBs to ease into a starting role.
While many have been quick to criticize Geno Smith for his rookie mistakes, EJ Manuel has been glorified by the national media, despite the fact that both QBs have led their respective teams to the same 1-1 record. Both QBs suffered losses to the Patriots*, and both probably learned a lot about how a first ballot HOF QB can lead a depleted team to victory without much experienced talent around him.
Throw in all the media hype about Pettine playing his first game against his former team, and this game becomes ripe with sub-plots that can distract fans from the bottom line; the Bills desperately need a win this game to show that they are for real THIS season. The Jets have given the Bills fits in recent years, so this game is no ‘gimme’ by any stretch of imagination.
What will the Bills need to do to beat the Jets? From my perspective, the most important challenge they face lies in getting consistently effective play by CJ Spiller in the running game. Fred Jackson has shown in the first two games that he is ‘Mr. Consistency.’ You can count on him to pound through the line carrying as many players on his back as needed to get that first down yardage, or get over the goal line.
CJ Spiller has had a few electrifying moments, and sadly a couple were called back by stupid penalties which still plague the Bills this season. In order to beat the Jets, I believe that CJ Spiller is going to have to show more consistency this week because the Jets are stout against the run. CJ cannot fall back into his habitual impatience with the offensive line with his bouncing around.
He even admitted that his bad habit of trying to run around the DL instead of through it has shown up once again. It’s painfully illustrated by the obvious difference in effectiveness that Fred Jackson displayed in the first two games, when he consistently plowed through for badly needed yardage. This week that must change if the Bills hope to get out of New Jersey with a “W”.
If the Jets defensive scheme is designed to rattle EJ Manuel with lots of exotic blitzes, it will be imperative that EJ Manuel find CJ Spiller or Fred Jackson with screen plays that can burn them early to set the tone. Though EJ has shown the poise that so many pundits talk about, he hasn’t faced a great deal of pressure in the first two games. Credit the offensive line for doing an effective job so far, but neither the Patriots* nor the Panthers went “all-in” on blitzing Manuel. Manuel has shown some moxy, but he’s also made some rookie mistakes that he can ill afford to make in this game.
Obviously, the other key to this game will rely upon the Bills defense to do to Geno Smith what could be the same game plan used against EJ Manuel. The Bills defensive line must be able to stop the run, rush Geno, and force turnovers. This is where it would be really helpful to have Jairus Byrd back in the starting role at free safety.
I believe the outcome of this game will rely upon two factors. If the Bills can get consistent productivity from CJ Spiller (and Fred Jackson), they will be able to move the chains. Converting third downs will be critical in the running game. They must take the running game to the next level.
The other key to success is generating turnovers. I believe winning this game in particular will boil down to which team is able to create more turnovers and capitalize on them by scoring touchdowns, not field goals. Though the Bills defense certainly looks vastly improved in some areas, creating turnovers has to be a central focus of their game plan. They have been dominant in many respects, but I believe they need to up the intensity for creating turnovers.
That area of concern may be where the Bills miss those sure handed INTs that Jairus Byrd brought to this defense. It would be nice to see him back on the field, but even if he is not there, someone on defense is going to have to step it up and strip the ball, or do a “Kiko” and get a great INT early in the game.
Running the ball effectively on offense, and creating turnovers on defense are paramount for success. If the Bills are able to be effective in both areas, I believe this gives them the best chance to beat the Jets in Jersey. We all know how important it is for the Bills to come away with a 2-1 record instead of 1-2. This is especially true if the second loss is to another divisional opponent.
If the Bills really want to make a statement that they are ready to roll, this would be the time for them to come out and show it. This fan base needs to see that they are serious about changing the culture of losing that has created over a decade of despair in WNY. Forget the sub-plots and drama created by the media hype. As Al Davis said, “just win, baby.”